If he had his way, Virgilio Martinez would have been a professional skateboarder. As fate would have it, a fractured collarbone changed everything. Flash forward years later, he now brings diners on a culinary tour of Peru’s most remote ecosystems with Central. Who would have thought that an injury could have paved the way to Central, Latin America’s top eatery.
Ranked globally as the fourth in The World’s 50 Best list, the restaurant first opened in 2009 in Lima. “I’ve always had the urge to do intense things, and the first time I set foot in a kitchen, I realized I was going to be a chef,” Martinez, 38, told AFP. The chef, who now has restaurants in London and Dubai, runs the kitchen with the help of his wife, Pia, whom he calls his “leader in life and leader in the kitchen.”
Priced at $120-per-head, the menu at the 15-table restaurant will feature dishes such as crab meat served in marine rocks from five meters below sea level. “You can be eating from a marine ecosystem or products that come from more than 4,000 meters above sea level,” Martinez says. His aim is to give other native Peruvian ingredients time to bask in the spotlight.
Apart from serving up delectable meals, the award-winning chef is promoting Mater Initiative, a gastronomic research group that he leads. The group partners with local food producers, most of whom live in poverty. The aim is to educate the elites for whom he cooks on the “importance of a potato, a pepper, a fish” to those less fortunate than them. “How can a country have so-called ‘cuisine’ when there is malnutrition and hunger? One way to change this is to promote our own produce — what we use is 100 percent Peruvian.”